The Cave Creek Museum preserves the North Valley’s history

Desert Life 

The Cave Creek Museum preserves the North Valley’s history.

By Julie Carlson

The Cave Creek Museum’s mission is to collect, interpret, and preserve Cave Creek and Carefree’s history. Open to visitors from October through May, the museum began as an historical society in 1968. Located at the base of Black Mountain, it boasts 80 active volunteers dedicated to preserving the history of life in the north desert foothills.

“Although we are small, we are mighty in volunteers,” says Karrie Porter Brace, executive director of the museum. “A lot of our people are from the Cave Creek area, or have winter residences. They are docents; they help with collections; they design and install exhibits, and lead programs.”

The museum is divided into three different wings––the Mini-Wing, the Pioneer Wing and the Archeology Wing. Collections are also located throughout the central Ansbaugh Auditorium, in addition to outdoor spaces.

“That includes the ranching community, mercantile industry, military, and early historic times of Phoenix,” says Karrie. “We also have an amazing archeological collection that documents the Hohokam period and later––ceramics, baskets, stone tools that date back to a 1,000 years before Anglo-European occupation.”

The museum often receives input from the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and other local Native American tribes. Representatives offer programming and activities as well as discussions on how they continue to identify with their tribes while bringing awareness of their history.

As for the Pioneer Wing, it focuses on exhibits and reproductions relating to the mining communities in the Cave Creek area and the popularity of ranching during the 1950s in places such as Sierra Vista, Spur Cross, and Rancho Manana.

“To enjoy the West and get a sense of what it was like to live on a ranch is what attracted a lot of people out here,” says Karrie. “One of the major things that the Cave Creek Museum owns is a ten-stamp mill.”

A stamp mill was used to it to extract gold, usually in flakes and dust from hard rock such as quartz. The Golden Reef Stamp Mill, located outside, is run by a group of dedicated volunteers the museum affectionately calls the dream team. From Oct.14 through May 12, see it in action every Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

“What makes our particular stamp mill unique is that it was located here in Cave Creek, and was relocated to the museum grounds, reassembled and operated monthly for our guests.”

Also in the Pioneer Wing is an exhibit on the Cartwright Ranch, the last big ranch in the area. This exhibit features photos and artifacts showcasing the pioneers who settled in the area from 1882-1928, cowboy bronze sculptures by renowned artist John Wade Hampton, and a reproduction of an assayer’s office showing the tools and devices used for mining.

In the Mini-Wing, visitors can learn more about the communities of Cave Creek and Carefree. Travel back through time while checking out collections of architect Paolo Soleri, how banking worked during the early 1900s, photography from Jerry Sieve, and learn about how Cave Creek was instrumental in helping medically with tuberculosis patients in the Ansbaugh Auditorium.

The Cave Creek Museum also has a small library and archives specific to the mission and scope of the museum as well as a lovely desert cactus garden surrounding the building’s exterior. Also outdoors is the Mission Chapel. Originally an episcopal church in the 1940s, the Mission Chapel is now non-denominational. It’s used frequently for weddings.

Throughout the year, the museum also hosts a variety of events and fundraisers. Every November is the Miners Dinner, which supports the mining heritage exhibits, the Stamp Mill, and the dream team. During the month of December, family programming centers on the holidays. Dec. 3 is the museum’s Holiday Magic event with crafts and treats. Dec. 9 the museum hosts author and Carefree resident Robert A. Kittle to discuss his book Franciscan Frontiersmen. On Jan. 14 enjoy a day of food from yesteryear. Bring your heirlooms and antiques over to the museum on Jan. 20 to be appraised for a small fee. On March 11 will be Cave Creek Museum’s annual Homes Through Time’ Tour. Make sure to check the museum’s website for more Family Fun Workshop and Adult Discovery Series dates and/or changes.

Before you leave don’t forget to stop in the museum store where you can find books, stuffed animals, beaded jewelry, purses made from cowboy boots, and more, available for sale.


Cave Creek Museum

(480) 488-2764

6140 E. Skyline Dr., Cave Creek






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